LOCATION: Republic of Cuba
DOCKET NO.: 74-214
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
CITATION: 422 US 749 (1975)
ARGUED: Mar 19, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1975
Don B. Kates, Jr. - for appellees
Harriet S. Shapiro - for appellants
Facts of the case
Media for Weinberger v. SalfiAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 19, 1975 in Weinberger v. Salfi
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 1975 in Weinberger v. Salfi
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 74-214, Weinberger against Salfi will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.
William H. Rehnquist:
The Social Security Act provides benefits for minor children of deceased wage earners and for mothers of such children who have them in their care.
The Act defines eligible children and mothers in such a way that a wage earner's stepchildren and their mother are eligible only if the mother's marriage to the wage earner and the child's relationship as a stepchild of the wage earner had existed for at least nine months before the wage earner's death.
Appellees in this case were claimants under the Act and they were excluded from benefits by this nine months requirement.
After presenting their claims to the Social Security Administration, they filed this class action alleging that the requirement was unconstitutional.
A three-judge District Court in the Northern District of California agreed with them concluding that the requirement constituted an irrebuttable presumption that marriages entered less than nine months before the wage earner's death were entered into for the purpose of obtaining Social Security benefits.
We noted probable jurisdiction on the Secretary's appeal and we now reverse the judgment of the District Court.
We initially conclude for reasons set out at length in an opinion filed with the clerk that the District Court was without jurisdiction to consider that complaint insofar as it sought to recover benefits in behalf of class members who had not exhausted their administrative remedies.
As for the named appellees, the District Court did have jurisdiction and we therefore turn to the merits of the controversy as to them.
Our cases have consistently established that statutory classifications regarding eligibility for publicly financed benefit programs are consistent with the constitution if they are rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest and do not invidiously discriminate among claimants.
The nine-month duration of relationship requirement in this Act meets that standard.
Congress could reasonably have concluded that the requirement would protect against the occurrence of an abused which it legitimately wished to avoid marriages entered into for the purpose of obtaining benefits on the basis of the Social Security contributions of a wage earner who was expected shortly to die.
While the requirement does not necessarily exclude all claimants who entered such sham relationships and plainly does not exclude -- does exclude some persons whose good faith marriages were terminated by an unexpected death.
It was nonetheless not unreasonable for Congress to conclude that the requirements inherent imprecision was justified by its clarity and ease of administration.
The judgment of the District Court is therefore reversed.
Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion.
Mr. Justice Brennan has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Marshall has joined.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.